Mornings on Munjoy Hill begin at Hilltop Coffee (207.780.0025), where coffee lovers spread out over their papers and warm scones or sticky buns. Up the street, Rosemont Market and Bakery (rosemontmarket.com) offers a handpicked selection of locally grown vegetables, locally raised meat, their own freshly baked bread, and house-made salsas, pestos, and dressings. (You might pick up some of their addictive pesto torta, a fresh baguette, and some lemonade for an Eastern Promenade picnic later on.)
A block away the arts venue, community mainstay, and architectural landmark St. Lawrence Arts (stlawrencearts.org) is housed in a former Congregational church designed by Arthur Bates Jennings in 1897 in a Romanesque Revival style. The church closed its doors in 1986 and remained shuttered for ten years until grassroots organization Friends of the St. Lawrence began a historic restoration. Today, the venue offers a range of performing arts, from theater by resident troupe Good Theater, to dance, music, film, and workshops.
The 103 steps of the Portland Observatory (portlandlandmarks.org) are worth climbing for the 360-degree view of islands, lighthouses, Casco Bay, the Back Cove, and downtown Portland. It’s the only known remaining maritime signal tower in the country and was named a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Guided tours run from May 24 through Columbus Day.
Reward yourself for climbing all those steps and head to Katie Made Bakery (katiemadebakery.com) for a tasty treat by baker Katie Capron, who also serves soups and handcrafted sandwiches with house-roasted meats and homemade sauces made by her sister, Jennifer Capron. Down the street, step up to the counter at apothecary-style teahouse Homegrown Herb and Tea (homegrownherbandtea.com) and let owner Sarah Richards—who is an expert in Ayurveda, an Eastern system of medicine that uses nutrition and herbs to bring the body into balance—advise the perfect blend of herbs to cure what ails you.
The family-run Colucci’s Hilltop Market was a neighborhood institution for decades. Following a fire in March of 2013, the convenience store and deli is slated to reopen as Hilltop Superette (facebook.com/hilltopsuperette) and will offer a wide variety of produce, meats, dairy, groceries, wine, and beer, as well as an extensive carry-out menu (which we hope still includes its famed Italian sandwiches and homemade sausages).
Shopping on the Hill is sure to turn up some unexpected finds. Ferdinand Studio and Storefront (ferdinandhomestore.com) is a shop up front and a workroom in the back, where the crafty Diane Toepfer makes about half of the merchandise she sells—everything from t-shirts and onesies to limited-edition greeting cards and jewelry. Maine native and renowned textile designer Angela Adams chose the base of Munjoy Hill for her single stand-alone store, where she sells modern home furnishings and lifestyle accessories inspired by the Maine landscape. Adams and her partner, furniture designer Sherwood Hamill, create complementary collections of furniture, area rugs, and tapestries.
The restaurants at the eastern end of Congress Street are casual, comfortable, and especially cozy during a snowstorm, when Hill residents stay close to home. Chef Harding Lee Smith opened The Front Room (thefrontroomrestaurant.com) in 2005, the first of his “Rooms” (the others, the Grill Room and the Corner Room, are in the Old Port). The first-come, first-served restaurant serves New American comfort food from an open kitchen for dinner, as well as a daily brunch until 2:30 p.m. A few doors down at chef-owner David Iovino’s intimate Blue Spoon (bluespoonme.com), favorites include the bistro burger, the sourdough rosemary BLT, and the champagne cocktails made with Maine mead. Lolita Vinoteca and Asador (lolita-portland.com), the newest venture by Guy and Stella Hernandez (owners of the now-closed Bar Lola) and their partner Neil Reiter, is open from late morning into evening so people can drop in, day or night, for a few bites and a glass of wine or a full meal of modern American cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. The renovated space is anchored by a custom wood-fired grill and features a zinc dining bar and cozy banquette.
At one point, neighborhood pub The Snug (thesnugpub.com) didn’t mind if, between beers, you wanted to grab a slice to-go from Otto Pizza (ottoportland.com) next door. But now the bar—with its snarky personality summarized in its tagline, “Not For the Squeamish”—has a vegetarian menu, which includes items like a “Curried Tastes-Like Chicken” wrap. There’s also Mama’s Crowbar (facebook.com/mamascrowbar), the beer-only, cash-only bar whose Facebook page offers a succinct history: “Formerly Awful Annie’s, which was formerly George’s Tavern, which was formerly some fishermen getting wicked hammered in a tent.” Mama’s offers happy hour every day, plus open-mic comedy and poetry nights.
Portland’s East End comes to a dramatic close on a grassy slope leading down to Casco Bay. Boasting arguably the best views in town (and a postcard-perfect Fourth of July celebration), Munjoy Hill’s Eastern Promenade (trails.org)—the Prom—along with Fort Allen Park, offers a sweeping vista of a sparkling, bustling harbor, plus public gardens, monuments, playgrounds, ball fields, and tennis courts. Lined today by a row of grand homes, the 68-acre park was designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers and constructed in the 1830s. Today, joggers, dog walkers, bicyclists, and baby strollers share the waterfront trail built along an old rail corridor. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. (mainenarrowgauge.org) operates a museum dedicated to the preservation of Maine’s two-foot gauge railway and is open Saturdays through Thursdays from May to October. The East End Beach offers swimming and allows dogs in the off-season.
In 1895, the Portland Commissioners of Parks, Cemeteries, and Public Grounds said the Promenade would have a tremendous impact on the neighborhood: “The park is the garden of the people, and whoever learns to make the best use of it will find ample suggestions of paradise.” On a summer day—land, sea, and sky in brilliant bands of green and blue—predictions of paradise come true.
Read more about Munjoy Hill’s history and culture: Life on Munjoy Hill.